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Ableton Live 8: “Unsquash” overly-squashed audio files

June 30, 2009
OBJECTIVE: Restore some of the dynamic range to an audio file with excessive limiting or compression by making the peaks “peakier.”

BACKGROUND: Ableton Live 8 includes a sophisticated multiband dynamics module that can not only compress below a threshold, but expand signals above a separate threshold. If you have a file that’s been “maximized” so much the dynamic range has been trashed, use the expansion function to restore the peaks and give a more dynamic sound. We’ll assume you’ve already dragged the file to be fixed into Live.


1. Drag the Multiband Dynamics processor into the Track View Selector for the track containing the audio you want to fix.


2. Turn down the Multiband Dynamics input levels for each band to around –6.0dB (click on each control and drag down). This will open up 6dB of headroom for the enhanced peaks.


3. Play the file and observe the levels, as shown by the meters. Click on the left edge of each “Above” block, and drag it to just below where each band’s peaks occur. Do this for all three bands. (The Above blocks are outlined in blue in the screen shot to make them more visible in print.)


4. Click on the “A” (Above block) button.


5. Click in each orange above field and drag upward to increase the amount of expansion. Higher ratios (e.g., 1:0.6 as opposed to 1:1 or 1:3) indicate expansion.


6. Observe the meters. The meter’s small yellow bars indicate the input signal level, the large orange bars indicate the output level. Because of the expansion, the orange bars will peak higher than the yellow bars. Tweak the expansion ratio for the desired amount of peak enhancement, and you’re done.


7. Compare the difference: The original file is on top, the processed one on the bottom. Chalk up a “loudness wars” victory for the good guys!



-In Step 4, you can also click within the Above block and drag up or down to change the amount of peak expansion.
-In Step 5, be careful when you change the amount of expansion—too much can make for peaks that’ll blast your ears.

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